Refugee families who arrive from overseas come to the U.S. with virtually no material possessions. They have lost homes, friends, family, country, culture, and jobs. Most do not speak any English. They have no income, and many are victims of trauma, with physical or mental health needs. As great as their initial needs are, their potential to enrich our community is even greater.
Asylum seekers, asylees, and other immigrant families who seek assistance stabilizing their family situation often have many of the same needs as refugees coming from overseas. However, since they are already in the U.S., it is often the case that they have some limited resources or extended support network that can be built upon with the help of IRIS.
IRIS provides targeted wrap-around services for all clients, using a strength-based assessment model, that offers long-term support for successful integration:
For refugees first arriving to the country through the federal resettlement program, IRIS is able to secure an apartment, donated furniture, household goods, and toiletries. To prevent food insecurity for all clients, IRIS’s food pantry distributes 2,000 pounds of nutritious food each week to over 200 refugee and immigrant households in the greater New Haven area. A free “marketplace” offers all clients the chance to select additional linens, kitchen supplies, toys and books, and other household items.
Our case managers serve as an advocate, teacher, and guide as refugees learn about their new community and as asylum seekers or asylees seek to navigate complicated community resources. Case managers teach clients about U.S. laws and culture, help them apply for public benefits, if applicable, and coordinate follow-up services. IRIS also has licensed social workers on staff who provide intensive case management and counseling support to those with the greatest mental health needs.
Employment is the key to empowerment and self-sufficiency. Through career counseling, job skills training, and outreach to employers, IRIS helps clients prepare for, start, and succeed in jobs. In 2018, IRIS helped 90+ refugees and immigrants successfully find work.
Learning English is at the foundation of successful integration. IRIS provides several daily English classes for refugee and immigrant adults, including a Family Literacy program, which also serves these women’s youngest children by providing infant care and a preschool readiness class. These classes help women who previously hesitated to venture outside their homes due to traditional customs, lack of any English, and the need to care for young children. It unlocks the English-speaking world—and employment opportunities—for women and ultimately for the next generation.
Education and Youth Services
Refugee and immigrant youth face unique issues as they adjust to their new home. Many have had their schooling interrupted by war and persecution, their family’s flight to safety, or they may have never attended a formal school. And yet, children are incredibly resilient, and regularly succeed when given emotional and academic support. IRIS immediately enrolls children in school and provides them with school supplies, backpacks, and uniforms. As needed, staff members serve as liaisons between all client families and the school, for academic advisement, counseling, and other needs or communications.